Teaching our children to compose

In our society, if your child never learns to play an instrument with traditional instruction and lessons, chances are they will probably grow up to be musically illiterate.

We’re great at numeracy and literacy in our society, but we suck badly when it comes to teaching our kids musical literacy.

We suck even worse at teaching our kids to compose.

I’ll talk about musical literacy and kids in another post, but right now I want to talk about teaching our kids to compose, and giving them the tools to do so.

With the advent of affordable composition software, it has never been easier to create music. It is time to share the gifts of composition with our children.

How old is old enough?

I believe that if a child is old enough to learn to read and write, they are old enough to start composing. And they’re old enough for their music to be performed too.

Composition software is NOT expensive – Sibelius First, the software I use (and no, they’re not giving me a kickback!), costs less than a typical home game system.

Now I’m sure that playing computer games teaches your child some valuable skills – although I can’t quite think what they might be. How to be violent? How to kill aliens? How to pretend to play sports? Maybe.

But getting your child started with composing teaches them:

  • Musicianship – they learn the values of notes, and how to put music together
  • Mathematics – the bars have to add up!
  • Creativity – that great feeling of getting the tunes in your head out on paper and shared with your friends, your family, or the world
  • Persistence – the ability to stay on task and focus
  • Planning – the ability to take a project from start to finish, from the idea in your head to a full, completed piece
  • Computer skills – how to use keyboard shortcuts, mouse skills, scrolling, saving work, and reviewing saved work
  • Literacy – Creating lyrics that work and express meaning
  • Marketing – Once the piece is finished, your child can think about how to get the word out about their work, and how to get it performed
  • Networking – building connections with people who might be interested in their work, building business opportunities, learning networking skills
  • Web skills – sure as anything, as they get more advanced they’ll want a blog to market their work. Or maybe they’ll want to submit it to CPDL or similar. They’ll need – and learn – web skills to do these things along the way, just as I did.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Although it helps if you compose yourself, when getting your child started in the road to composition, you don’t have to know anything beyond a few basic music theory rules.

I do think that the combination of learning an instrument, together with learning composition, is unbeatable.

But whatever you decide, encouraging your child as a composer can only help enrich their creativity and musicality, lifelong skills that they will never stop being thankful for.

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4 thoughts on “Teaching our children to compose

  1. Great post!
    As the daughter of a piano teacher of 30 years, I learnt these skills at a very young age and have used them throughout adulthood too (first first album – a collaborative work – is set for release early in the new year). However I’ve gotten a bit slack when it comes to passing on that knowledge to my munchkins. This has motivated me to get back into the saddle and pass on those skills as best I can to them.
    Thanks for the inspiration!
    Lusi x

  2. A few thoughts …

    There is a LOT of research that finds that learning music is beneficial in a whole range of way – kids that learn an instrument do better in other things (e.g. maths).

    One benefit of some composition software is that it doesn’t use music notation, so weak (or no) knowledge of music notation is no longer a barrier to composing.

    Excellent points on the list of skills learned.

    Ultimately though, to me it’s as simple as this: we wouldn’t teach our kids to read, but not write. So why do we teach so many children to read music and play instruments, but not to write music?

    1. Hi Lusi – I just wish I’d learned music theory as a child. I never did, and picking up the skills as an adult has been very challenging. You’re so lucky to have learned the skills you did at an early age, and I’m sure you realise that.

      Yes, pass on what you know! I believe that *all* children are incredibly creative, and only need to be given the opportunity to shine.

      That doesn’t mean that every child is a budding Mozart, but can you imagine how much wonderful music might happen if every child who learned literacy in our world ALSO learned musical literacy, and how to compose?

      It really gets you wondering, doesn’t it!

  3. Hi Michael – I think we don’t generally teach our kids to compose because most of us have never tried composing ourselves.

    It is still, unfortunately, seen as some sort of elite skill that a select pack of rich, gifted (and often dead!) men have, rather than something that comes naturally to so many people who just have the desire to share their love of music with others.

    And, unfortunately, there is a lot of “composition is an elite skill” attitude still floating around in the old school. Some great new composers – Eric Whitacre is one of them – are doing much to change the old ways of thinking, but the old ways do persist.

    I believe that you don’t have to write full scale symphonies to be a worthwhile composer. Big is NOT necessarily better – and trust me, I’ve beard plenty of big, incredibly boring and awful music, to prove that point. Good composition is about telling stories, and communicating well – and as so many of our kids are great communicators, I see no reason why, given half a chance, they might not also be effective composers! 🙂

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